Monday, 17 December 2012



O God, Creator and Redeemer of human nature,
who willed that your Word should take flesh
in an ever-virgin womb,
look with favour on our prayers,
that your Only Begotten Son,
having taken to himself our humanity,
may be pleased to grant us a share in his divinity.

Based on a collect from the Rotulus of Ravenna, but with substantial changes, some of them based on another collect, found in the Gelasian Sacramentary and in ten other manuscripts, and there assigned to the Christmas season.

Our collect follows the Rotulus prayer in its first four lines. Then the Rotulus has:

‘that, having received the nativity of your only-begotten, we may become worthy also to be united to the divine fellowship of the Redeemer himself’.

The Gelasian prayer translates thus:

Almighty ever-living God, creator and reformer of human nature, which your Only-begotten assumed in an ever-virgin womb, look upon us with kindness so that, having received the incarnation of your Son, we may become worthy to be counted among his members.

The word ‘humanity’ deserves notice. In pre-christian Latin humanitas means ‘humaneness’, that is, kindliness. I suspect that its use to mean ‘human nature’ is a distinctive feature of the writings of Leo the Great, after whom it became common in christian discourse. The 1970 revisers imported this leonine expression into the Rotulus text, perhaps because they were moving a Christmas prayer into the Advent season, and ‘incarnation’ and ‘nativity’ seemed too specifically linked to the event of Christ’s birth. Something has been lost, however, because the idea that we have ‘received’ Christ’s incarnation and nativity represents him as the Father’s gift to the human race.


Sanctify these gifts of your Church, O Lord,
and grant that through these venerable mysteries
we may be nourished with the bread of heaven.

From the Gelasian sacramentary, and imported into the 1970 Missal with only one change: the substitution of dona for munera at the beginning. Both words are regularly translated as ‘gifts’ in the English Missal, so it is hard to see a reason for this decision.

The official translation narrows the focus of the prayer, which in the original begins 'Sanctify the gifts of your Church', by replacing 'the' with 'these', which has no equivalent in the Latin. So this has become a prayer for the sanctification of the Eucharist, rather than of all the gifts that God's people offer him at Mass.


Nourished by these divine gifts, almighty God,
we ask you to grant our desire:
that, aflame with your Spirit,
we may shine like bright torches
before your Christ when he comes.

Found in the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries and in many medieval manuscripts, with several textual variants. The 1970 text is an abbreviated form of the Gelasian, which in full translates thus:

'May our souls, we pray, almighty God, gain possession of this deasire, that they may be set on fire by your Spirit and, like lamps satiated with the divine gift, may we shine like bright lights before the face of your Christ when he comes.'

The comparison implied here between eucharistic reception and the pouring of oil into a lamp in order to keep it alight was lost in the 1970 revision. Also, 'souls' has been removed, as in so many texts in 1970.

The translation again adds 'these' with no basis in the Latin. It also omits to translate conspectum, 'face'.